As of March 1, 2023, 21 states, alongside DC, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands, have enacted laws permitting the recreational use of marijuana. This reflects a significant policy shift, as recreational marijuana legalization measures remove all state-imposed penalties for specified activities involving marijuana. Despite these changes, President Biden has emphasized that important limitations on trafficking, marketing, and underage sales must remain intact to prevent adverse societal impacts.
Parallel to recreational use, medical cannabis laws have also been evolving. Research utilizing National Surveys indicates that states with medical cannabis laws had a higher prevalence of past-month cannabis use compared with states without such laws. Furthermore, the eligibility for medical cannabis has expanded, with the new legislation permitting prescriptions for longer periods and allowing smokable cannabis in dispensaries.
Despite state-level legalization, federal law enforcement continues to focus on criminal networks involved in the illicit marijuana trade, as marijuana growth, trafficking, and possession remain federal offenses. This has been confirmed by federal prosecutions of individuals who fail to comply strictly with state medical marijuana laws.
Use of marijuana, federally illegal yet the most commonly used drug in the United States, was reported by approximately 18% of Americans in 2019. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 3 in 10 people who use marijuana may have a use disorder, with an increased risk for those who start using marijuana before the age of 18.
In the educational sphere, the 2022 Monitoring the Future Survey revealed that a significant percentage of students reported using cannabis/hashish in the past year, highlighting the need for continued public health education and safety measures.
As the landscape of marijuana law continues to evolve, the intersection of federal and state regulations presents complex legal and public health challenges. The Congressional Research Service reports recent developments in marijuana law that underscore the expanding policy gap between federal statutes and state-level reforms.
The debate over marijuana’s status is ongoing, with discussions centered on public health, law enforcement, and regulatory frameworks. As the policy environment changes, the focus remains on preventing the drug’s misuse and ensuring public health safety measures are not compromised.